IT isnt easy to leave the mountains and come back to the plains. Especially if youve discovered the special joy of companionship that only the adversity of life in the mountains can bring.
I went to Dharamsala looking for a place in the mountains, some particular name that the mountains would call me. From Dharamsala and Mcleodganj, the sight of the awesome Dhauladhars fills one with a strange desire, to see what is in the heart of such a mountain. To hear what songs nature plays in its lap.
Between Mcleodganj and the snow- covered peaks is a high ridge called Triund. It faces the three peaks -- Muns peak, Camel peak and the highest, Matterhorn. The ridge gently tapers down to the Kangra valley, over the Bhagsu Nag waterfall and the slate mines near Chola and Kanhiyara villages. The slate mines look like huge scars on the mountainside.
There are two ways of climbing up to Triund. The regular one is through the Dharamkot village which is 3 km from Mcleodganj. The other route is from the Bhagsu Nag waterfall, hiking up through dense wilderness. This time there was a female bear in these jungles with three cubs. In the last few days it had attacked two men, mauling them badly. One of them died in hospital later.
A few days back, an Israeli tourist had got lost on the way back from Laka glacier to Triund. It was on the day when there were cyclones in Gujarat and Rajasthan. At Triund, a mountaineer with the rescue team told me, "If somebody was standing on the ridge that day, he would have been blown away by the wind."
Looking at him and then around towards the mountains stretching in empty space and the Kangra valley, I could almost feel the chill in my spine which is often brought about by a hint of wild adventure. Was this that brought me back to the mountains again and again?
The Israeli was trekking with his girlfriend. They had stayed the night at a cafe near the glacier. It is called the Snow Point Cafe. In the morning the weather had got really bad, and while the girl was still packing, the man moved off. The fog was so heavy that it was impossible to see beyond an arms length. The girl followed, calling out to him but there was no response.
This was the tenth day of the search for him, and there were notices everywhere offering a reward to anyone providing a clue to his whereabouts . Rescue teams had been organised by the Israeli tourists in Mcleodganj (and there were a lot of them) by collecting money. They were operating from Triund and I wanted to find out how they were going about it.
The bear scare was also quite palpable, and I encountered people on the way asking about the safety of the route. In a hill community, where a rumour can float in from any direction, a figment of somebodys imagination can also become a fact just because it has been repeated by so many tongues. Here they had only shifted the bears territory from one hill to another.
The walk-up passes the Regional Mountaineering Centre, and goes up a motorable road to Dharamkot village, beautifully nestled on a gentle and wooded hillside. Through dense deodars, the route reaches the top where the hill opens to valleys on both sides. There is a Shiva temple there and a small cafe. From here a small jungle walk goes to a very clean waterfall. European tourists have midnight music parties here, and come here to swim and local adventurers come to watch.
From here a path takes you up and around hillsides to Triund. There are three little shack cafes on the way, with quaint names as Magic View cafe. The painted rocks on the path start announce their arrival a kilometre or so ahead of the actual site. But carrying water is a must, or you could spend all your money on mineral water bottles. There is a filling point near Triund, a mountain stream, after this water is not available till you reach the glacier. The path gently reaches up through green hillsides, and, on turns, you find yourself peering down into steeply falling slopes.
Higher up, the hills become rocky and craggy and the landscape looks desolate. The vegetation is varied and very moist. There are small little weasel like animals, and small deer which are rarely seen.
.On a high shoulder off the path some Tibetan lamas have built small hermitages in which they stay all around the year and meditate, just like they did in Tibet before the Chinese came in and hounded them out. It is quite fascinating to see a culture and faith surviving in a foreign locale. A slow laboured walk and more than a couple of hours behind you, Triund is unexpected. The peaks stand right upfront as if you could touch them, and a gentle opened up area where you can run, lie down, dance or do anything as the mist and the cool air play on your skin.
In the golden light of the setting sun, the Muns peak looked beautiful. Below it was the mist as if keeping the citadel afloat. I stretched out flat and looked at this group of Israeli tourists sitting in a circle, eating and talking. The girls had crowfeathers tucked into their hair. They were the rescue team and they had been out hiking. I laid out my things in the sun. The little activity was around the Triund cafe, where the proprietor Narendra debated with some tourists about the rescue plans.
The weather clears in the afternoon as the clouds pass. The peaks and the ice frozen in the crabs are clear to the view long after sundown, casting a golden light at the peaks.
I spent the night at the guest house, as a guest of the chowkidar and listened to his tirade against things in Triund. There is no water supply at Triund and the chowkidars job seems like a thankless one. And this rain drenched country has no rain shelters on the trek. With a little bit of effort, the forest department and the mountaineering centre can easily make it a safer trek, especially since the weather can get really rough here.
I met the Israelis in the morning when they were cooking breakfast. This was the second rescue team and they had commissioned local mountain guides to help in the search. There was no help from the local authorities, the leader complained. Two policemen had been sent as to help, but they wanted a search party with dogs. "What would the dogs do if they have to drag the poorly trained policemen with them," the mountain guides laughed. I went on a search mission with them, and it felt like searching for a nail in the dark.
I left for Laka Got (glacier) in the afternoon. The weather had started to clear. Tibetan prayer flags stretch across trees on the climb up from Triund, keeping the evil spirits away.
The path is varied andthe snowline is five kms away. It peers down immense falls, goes down into the valley before it climbs up a hill where the whole view opens up as the glacier stretching down from the top of the Muns peak comes into view. The mountains stand in a quarter circle, as if it were the end of the world, as if there was nowhere else to go and nowhere else to look except at these peaks and the way they open up to the sky.
The Indrahara pass and Bharmour is on the other side. The Nag Dal lake is reached after crossing the pass and devotees climb up there to get blessings. There is a big cave called Lahesh cave on the other side of the glacier, on the way to the Indrahara pass. From a distance the place looks dotted with rocks, as if the mountain was breaking down, a sign that the mountainis still young.
The water from the glacier is so cool and fresh that it instantly removes all fatigue. It was getting dark when I reached near the forest log hut. Shepherd dogs rushed at me, and kept barking till a rebuke made them retreat and I could safely walk again. I could make out the shapes of sheep and goats and the lone shepherd walking among them, pulling one goat and sitting down to milk it and then another.
I met the shepherd and we said namaste to each other. Later, we sat down near the log fire under a full sky of stars, as he prepared to cook. The atmosphere felt more striking now as there was no detail, only the mountains and the glacier in slight tones of black and white in the moonlight. I was with a man for whom this was home and it seemed so natural to be together with him and the hills.
As we talked, he lit up his hukkah, the smouldering coals throwing a red glow over his face. In the dark he looked much distant, as far as two human beings can be. Two beings who have followed completely different ways of living, one in the hills and the other in the city, not knowing each others life, except only in brief periods of familiarity. And, I became the student. This was the moment to learn.
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